Denver journal of international law and policy, Vol. 39, no. 1, 2010, p. 101-138
The United States has increasingly relied upon unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or "drones," to target and kill enemies in its current armed conflicts. Drone strikes have proven to be spectacularly successful - both in terms of finding and killing targeted enemies and in avoiding most of the challenges and controversies that accompany using traditional forces. However, critics have begun to challenge on a number of grounds the legality and morality of using drones to kill belligerents in the non-traditional conflicts in which the United States continues to fight. As drones become a growing fixture in the application of modern military force, it bears examining whether their use for lethal targeting operations violates the letter or spirit of the law of armed conflict. In this article I identify the legal framework and sources of law applicable to the current conflicts in which drones are employed; examine whether, and if so in what circumstances, using drones for targeting operations violates the jus in bello principles of proportionality, military necessity, distinction, and humanity; and determine what legal boundaries or limitations apply to the seemingly limitless capabilities of drone warfare. I then evaluate whether the law of armed conflict is adequate for dealing with the use of drones to target belligerents and terrorists in this non traditional armed conflict and ascertain whether new rules or laws are needed to govern their use. I conclude by proposing legal and policy guidelines for the lawful use of drones in armed conflict.